Belfast Telegraph

Mother urges mental health support

The mother of a man who tried to take his own life twice in three weeks has said she did not know where to turn for help.

Grace Cassidy's 25-year-old son suffered brain damage and permanent leg injuries when he fell from a two-storey house a fortnight after he was discharged from hospital where was treated for a drugs overdose and cutting his wrists.

Although her son's suicide attempt was eight years ago, Mrs Cassidy, 52, claimed little had changed for people struggling to access information about mental health issues.

She said: "There have been a lot of suicides over the last eight years but if people had the proper help that number would not be so high."

The north Belfast widow, who is now her son's full-time carer, is among 1,000 people to have signed a petition urging the Health Minister to include mental health in the next 'Choose Well' public health information campaign.

The petition, which has received cross-party political support, will be handed over to Edwin Poots at Stormont's Parliament Buildings tomorrow.

"I hope the minister does listen to us. This is a big issue," said Mrs Cassidy.

The 'Choose Well' campaign was originally developed in England and Wales and rolled out in Northern Ireland last year, partly as a response to a rise in waiting times at A&Es.

However, questions have been raised about the move to replicate the campaign without making adjustments to reflect Northern Ireland's higher-than-average rates of suicide.

Mrs Cassidy added: "This campaign is called 'Choose Well' but for those of us needing mental health care, it gives us no choice. We know from our own experience that the impact of information not being there is massive. Trying to find information about where to go for help when you are in crisis is not only distressing for the person but also for their families. You need the information urgently.

"People like us who have direct experience of accessing mental health service know a lot about how things could be improved. We want those in charge of Choose Well to make sure that the information included on mental health is exactly what those in crisis and their families really need."

Last year 303 deaths by suicide were recorded in Northern Ireland with some parts of the region having the highest rates in Western Europe.

Stephanie Green, development worker with Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) organisation, described the e xclusion of information about mental health from 'Choose Well' as a "massive oversight".

She said: "Our research has found that nine out of 10 people do not feel they have enough information on where to go to access mental health care.

"Access to information about health care options is a human rights issue. This means ultimately it is the Minister who is responsible. We are calling on him to ensure the campaign serves the needs of as many people as possible, so that those seeking help for mental health issues are given every opportunity to get it."

Meanwhile, Professor Paul Hunt, former United Nations Special Rapporteur has also pledged his support.

He said: "For people in mental health crisis, it is crucial that they are able to get help quickly.

"Having clear information about where you can access care for a health condition is a vital part of a State's obligation to ensure it is realising the human right to an adequate standard of health."

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